Tag Archives: government

NGOs providing essential social services

For reasons previously unknown to me, successive governments have farmed out the provision of critical social services to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This always struck me as shifting the responsibility away from the government, and I never understood why. Recently, the New Zealand Herald ran an article that mentioned why the government has utilised NGOs.

An effective, properly funded social services sector is crucial for the support of vulnerable children and their families. Most of the social services we need to achieve Government priorities are services best delivered by NGOs. There are many good reasons for this.

From the client perspective, NGO services are more trusted, accessible and private. From the community perspective NGOs are better networked into the community, both at agency and front line worker levels, and more likely to collaborate with others in the community.

From the Government perspective, using NGOs allows it to control the money it invests in social services while reducing the need for the employment of public servants who are not only more highly paid but get annual pay rises.

I agree with the client perspective. It’s much easier to trust the Sallies or Relationships Aotearoa than the Ministry of Social Development. There’s less of a sense of impending screwing over looming in the near future. While this is true, I think some rehabilitation of the government’s persona that it presents to people is important, rather than pushing all the work onto NGOs in order to cover up that reputation sinkhole.

I’m not sure what to think about the community perspective. I guess they’re better networked. I feel though that it’s because they’ve put in the work that government departments don’t feel like doing.Government departments could actually do the work and make the contacts and have the same advantages that the NGOs have there if they really wanted to.

From the government perspective. Well. Controlling the money it invests in social services? That sounds very much to me like code for ‘under-funding services and then blaming them for any failures due to lack of cash flow’. Any time the government talks about controlling costs it means that someone is going to lose out, and that the government is going to do all they can to make it seem like it was the most responsible thing it could have done.

The reason all this has come up is that a big NGO, Relationships Aotearoa, has just closed down due to funding deficits. The government blames RA, while RA say that the government didn’t come to the table with anything realistic. Whatever the reasoning, the upshot is that a bunch of counselling, including court-ordered counselling, has abruptly ended. That means that a bunch of ex-violent criminals have just lost their counsellors, people essential for their transition into functional community life.

It also reduces the need to pay public servants, who are guaranteed a good wage. Shall we say it plainer, and tell people that they just want to be able to pay people minimum wage for providing some of the most important social services to the most vulnerable groups in the country? Even if it’s not minimum wage, they still want to pay far less than people are worth to work far harder than the government deserves from them.

So why NGOs? People trust them more, yeah, but mostly we don’t have to give them much money, and we can shift the blame when thing so wrong. I love our government.

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Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

This is considered a basic right, something that New Zealand has signed its agreement to. We have the right to a decent standard of living, and the right to social security. So what’s going on with our government?

We have a right to adequate food – so why do we have to fight for food grants, and why are various  benefits not actually enough to feed their recipients on? Budgeting services across the country are sending their clients to food banks week after week because the clients have budgeted their money well and responsibly, and still there’s not enough to buy adequate food.

We have a right to adequate clothing – but there are kids all over the country who are being given socks, shoes, and jackets by KidsCan because their parents cannot afford these things.

We have the right to adequate housing, but our government refused to take up a bill proposing a warrant of fitness for rental homes so poor people in cheap accommodation are not living in places unfit for habitation. Our government is also selling off our stocks of social housing, ostensibly to social housing providers, but actually more likely into the hands of investors wanting to make a profit from them.

We have the right to adequate medical care, but our healthcare system is struggling under the weight of increasing need coupled with a static budget. Things that are nice to have are just off the list, and things that are utterly essential are pared back. Elective surgery lists are so long that by law most people are not officially on the list, because the list can only be six months long.

We have the right to necessary social services, but CYFS is so underfunded that it has had to cut back on necessary social welfare checks on foster children. The education budget is static, meaning that the education of our children is being slowly eroded, while teachers shudder under the weight of paperwork that they are forced to complete. Homeless shelters subsidised by the government are fully booked out, forced to deal with newly released prisoners and those fresh from mental health inpatient units, for which they are unequipped.

We have the right to security in case of lack of livelihood through circumstances beyond our control. Yet the government takes a punitive approach to beneficiaries, cutting benefits for minor sins, things that shouldn’t even be considered wrongdoing, like not applying for enough jobs in a week. Single parents are particularly victimised, with further restrictions on their parenting choices appearing with every new iteration of social development policy. The sick and disabled, distinctly named here as deserving of social security, are pushed toward work that they are in many cases not able to do effectively or safely, rather than being supported.

The current government is punitive, punishing people for being poor, being unemployed, being a solo parent, being ill. It’s not fair, and it’s directly against an international declaration that we have signed. Those things don’t really mean anything, it seems, unless we’re judging another nation for not following them.

Investing in mental health care

Investing in mental health care sounds like a great idea, right? Put more money into the mental health system, more people get care and logically more good outcomes ensue. Right?

Well, when this government heard ‘investing’ they went, ‘you know what, let’s get private investors to fund mental health initiatives using a bond scheme, where the investors get a return on their money if the scheme hits preselected targets’. And there went good ideas, flying out the window like so much smoke after a toaster fire.

Are. You. Kidding? When did it become a good idea to put mental health treatment in the hands of private investors who are prioritising a return on investment, not on actual positive outcomes for the patients involved? Sure, the key performance indicators (KPIs) might seem as though they demand good results for the clients, but we are not looking at a situation where people are looking towards client’s best interests.

The first scheme to be proposed under this new framework is one in which mental health patients are moved into work. The potential for abuse is huge – pushing people who aren’t ready into work that’s not suitable, employed by people with no understanding and ripe for abuse and failure. But it’s got to work for investors, so it’s going to work, dysfunctionally, checking boxes and playing with people’s mental health in return for a few dollars.

I don’t know how this is supposed to benefit anyone except the investors. It’s going to cost the government money. It’s not going to do any favours to the sick people involved. It’s not, as far as I can see, fiscally sensible. And it’s an experiment.

This is an experiment that has only been tried in the UK and the US, and those experiments are so new that we don’t know the outcomes yet. Sure, there’s some think-tank in New Zealand saying it’s a good idea, but it’s an unknown.

Should we be experimenting with social bonds on vulnerable mentally ill people? No, and no, and yet again no. Mental health care is already so bad, and this is not going to make it better. It’s a crazy capitalist experiment, one that we shouldn’t be trialling on people with enough serious challenges in their lives already

Tehe Th

A few more dollars in your pocket – in exchange for your right to parent

Yesterday’s Budget was . . . not as horrible as I thought it might be. My beloved Health sector didn’t get much more than this year, or at least not in the areas I’m passionate about, and neither did Education, but at least there were no cuts. The bit that everyone’s talking about, though, is welfare. There’s big news on that front.

The big news is a really bloody big deal. $25 per week more to each beneficiary – that’s more than a third of my food budget when I was on the student allowance, to feed a couple of kids in addition to myself. $25 would have been revolutionary, and it will be to the lives of some kids. There are catches (of course) that I don’t fully understand yet, but I’ll come back to them tomorrow when I’ve read some more learned opinions than my own. Still. $25. That’s something I never expected from this government. It says that yes, they are actually kind of attempting to sort of keep their child poverty promises. This won’t take effect until April next year, but it’s still a pretty big shard of hope for beneficiaries.

As well as extra money for beneficiaries, low-income families that already receive the In-Work Tax Credit will receive an extra $12.50 per week. It’s not a lot in absolute terms, but that’s 12 loaves of bread, or six litres of milk, or two and a half kilos of mandarins – a big difference when you’re living on not a lot. It would even stretch to a fish and chip dinner for the family every so often – a real treat for many kids.

So where’s the downside, the seamy underbelly of the child poverty-addressing budget? Well, parents on the Sole Parent Support will be obligated to work from when their child turns three (rather than when they turn five and start school), for a minimum of 20 hours per week. And here we land in the ‘poor people don’t have the right to parent’ territory.

Parenting is important, and it really is a full-time job. It’s not so much when the kids go off to school, but under-fives demand a lot of time and effort. The idea that poor parents should have to send their kids to daycare or preschool while they work, an obligation to be enshrined in law, is blatantly classist. We live in a society that was set up to protect families and children. We live in a society that says it values parenting. But we live in a society that has decided that it doesn’t value poor people’s parenting? There is already an obligation for Sole Parent Support recipients to ensure their child is in Early Childhood Education – why? Because we don’t trust poor people to raise their kids properly, to make the best decisions they can for them. It’s bullshit. We wouldn’t dare enforce work or any parenting practice on white, middle class women. Why are we doing it to poor women?

Our Prime Minister says that it’s fair to force poor parents to work, because “Tens of thousands of Kiwis do that every day, and they do that half the time after 14 weeks”. It’s true that many parents choose to return to the workforce after their paid parental leave is over, and that is right for their families. Others are forced to return because they haven’t the income to do otherwise. This essentially means that people without resources are forced to return to work whether it’s good for their family or not – a situation that Mr Key’s family would have no familiarity with, as his mother was allowed to stay on the benefit in a state house while she raised him, and his wife became a full-time mother to their children. Key is essentially taking away from our people the advantages that his family has enjoyed since they emigrated here. It is shameful.

Not only is the budget requiring parents on benefits to look for work when their child is three, they are also increasing the hours needed to count as part time from 15 to 20 hours per week. Where are these hours going to come from? We already have a huge pool of unemployed and underemployed people in this country. Until the people unencumbered with children, with the time and ability to work available to them are employed, why are we pressuring people with the rather important task of raising the next generation to work? And what employer is going to take a beneficiary with kids on as a part-timer if they can choose someone who might be available for extra hours at short notice, who won’t be called away in a hurry because their child is sick, who won’t have to take days off in order to care for their child? It may be illegal to discriminate in that way, but in the real world that’s the way it happens.

This budget carries some promise for many beneficiaries, and a huge penalty to others. As long as this government refuses to value parenting as an important job and one that even poor people are capable of doing well and should be allowed to do, it’s only going to get worse. It’s a couple of years to the next election, but I hope that next time around there will be a change to someone with a bit of a heart.

The grand flag-changing plan

New Zealand is beginning the process of consulting on changing our flag. It’s a controversial process, and the first part of the process asks which of the new flag proposals the nation prefers, before even considering whether we want the thing changed at all! Most left-leaning people are against the proposal, because they see it as a waste of time and money, and a distraction from serious political issues.

A waste of money, and oh, what a waste. $26 million to go through a process that is driven from a political figure considering his legacy. He’s wanting to be remembered not for his poor handling of the Christchurch rebuild, or his shady Sky City deal, or his failure to deliver the long-promised budget surplus, or even for the revelations of Dirty Politics or his habit of pulling girl’s hair, but for something important and symbolic like changing our flag and moving away from our colonial roots (perhaps). It’s a lot of money for what can uncharitably be called a political vanity project.

What could $26 million buy? Well, it could buy 3250 insulin pumps and supplies for them for a year. It could fund KidsCan, the biggest charity for children in poverty in NZ, for almost four years. It could keep the National Library curriculum topic support service available to school children for more than 66 years. It would keep the Wellington Rape Crisis Drop-in Centre open for almost 366 years. It could fund Lifeline for five and a half years.

This isn’t small change, and there are places it could go that would make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people. Burning it on a flag referendum just feels so wasteful. It’s been allocated now, though, and there’s just nothing that anyone can do about it. All those things go begging, because of a vanity project. It’s galling.

Independence from Work and Income support

One measure that WINZ uses as a proxy indicator for full time employment is ‘Independence from Work and Income Assistance’ (p.21). The issues with this are pretty big.

As WINZ acknowledges, there are many and varied reasons why people move off benefits. Reasons range from the WINZ-advocated commencement of full-time work, through to beginning a relationship that removes entitlement, becoming a student, moving to France, moving to prison, or even death. Oddly enough, not all of these are the successful outcomes that WINZ is trying to claim when they give the numbers shifted off a benefit each quarter to Parliament.

Claiming successes like that, when they freely admit in their own literature that the reasons for people coming off the benefit are varied type and in relative positivity, is disingenuous. Anecdotally, there are plenty of stories of people losing the benefit because they became homeless, or because their doctor and the WINZ doctor disagreed, or because they started a job that didn’t pay enough to provide for them but paid too much to keep the benefit. These are not WINZ successes.

How many of these stories are there out there? Well, we don’t know, because no-one keeps count and WINZ aren’t about to start, not when they can claim that every person off the benefit is a success story attributable to their hard work.

We can’t know how deep the problem here runs. I want there to be better records, and more accountability for the people dropping through the cracks in the system and suffering for it.

Just ask your friendly pharmacist!

A wee while back there was a problem with the markings on some baby bottles. Many cheaper ones were inaccurate, in a way that could cause parents to feed their babies formula that was too concentrated. This is pretty bad for babies under about six months, as it is their only source of nourishment and it’s possible that they would either drink too much in order to sate thirst and receive too many calories, or drink enough to sate hunger and not get enough fluid.

This is a serious issue, and the government did take it seriously. They arranged with the Pharmacy Guild for pharmacists to be available to measure baby bottle volumes against accurate standard measures, and mark on correct measures if need be. It’s a really good response.

What’s not so good is the fine print. “Note that pharmacists may charge a fee for this service”. There’s a wee can of worms to open. I can imagine that pharmacies in economically depressed areas would probably not charge. In fact, I would be surprised if very many did at all. The big problem I see is that hard-up people might not ask at all because the shame of not being able to pay is too much.

Even if the pharmacy only asks for a fiver, it’s still a lot of money for some people. Many of these people are also very proud, and being turned away because they cannot pay would be intensely embarrassing. Better to not ask, the logic goes, than for that to happen.

The government came up with a good solution to an important problem. Why didn’t they manage to push it a little further and get a promise from the Guild to not charge people for what is essentially a community service?